The Chesler Park Loop is the crown jewel of trails in the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park. Clocking in at about 11 miles, it's one of the most fun and wildly diverse day hikes in the country, crisscrossing its way past Elephant Hill, through the maze-like formations of the Needles district, under and between giant boulders on the Joint Trail, and finally looping back to the parking lot on an array of sandstone slabs. Its easy class 2 scrambling makes for an adventurous day crawling up and down towering rock formations that look like the surface of Mars!
The hike begins at the end of Elephant Hill Road, a semi-harrowing dirt road that branches off the paved path through Canyonlands' southern entrance. It's about a 1.5-hour drive from Moab, but the difference in scenery between the two halves of the park is well worth the extra effort. Make sure you make a quick pit stop on your way at Newspaper Rock, an amazing array of 2,000-year-old petroglyphs!
The trail begins by climbing several well-marked (and oftentimes steep) slabs with little cairns along the way. Be sure to stay on the lookout for these cairns as the trek continues, because oftentimes they will be the only thing separating you from the trail and being lost in a red maze of sandstone monuments. Pass through a small slot canyon and enter into the Needles area in earnest. The views here are otherworldly, because the trail twists and turns every several hundred yards, climbing up and dropping down quickly. No two views are ever the same.
About 2.5 miles in, the trail quickly climbs up and over a steep pass between two of these monstrous rock pillars, dropping trekkers back down into Chesler Park. After this, the trail flattens out, crossing a meadow that feels oddly uncharacteristic for the terrain. Here, signs point to a few backcountry campsites, which require a $30 permit to stay. This gives hikers the opportunity to break up the longer loop and enjoy the incredible sunrises and sunsets this area has to offer.
After the meadow, the trail winds between several colossal boulders, merging with the Joint Trail, which is the highlight of the trip. Deep underground in a slot canyon, squeeze through shoulder-width cracks without needing any technical canyoneering skills. Get ready to practice echo-fabulous karaoke in these incredibly resonant chambers!
The Joint Trail curves to the right and eventually climbs its way out of a slightly wider canyon, continuing the loop back toward the pass to Chesler Park. From here, it rejoins the initial 2.5-mile trail to the parking lot.
If you're eager to get funky and explore some of Utah's wildest terrain, the Chesler Park Loop will not disappoint. Though it's a bit of a drive, it's a veritable one-stop shop for slot canyons, incredible vistas, and scrambling up and over impressive sandstone formations.